We must view housing as infrastructure to help solve the housing crisis

David Cowans

By David Cowans, Group Chief Executive of Places for People

When asked during a panel session at a recent housing conference what one thing I would want to see announced in the New Year, I responded; a programme of larger scale garden villages and towns. So last week's Government announcement was a good start to the year.

This announcement has a relationship with the debate around housing as infrastructure.  Treating housing as national infrastructure is essential if we are to solve the housing crisis. This is a message we have been promoting for many years and why it was great to see organisations like the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) calling for housing to be included in the National Infrastructure Assessment.

In its  2016 No Place Like Home Report, the CBI stresses the need for new ways of thinking and action which will enable houses to be tailored to the needs and aspiration of those who will live in them. It also argues that the UK's housing shortage is "not just a social issue, but an acute problem for businesses."

As a placemaking organisation that's been operating across the UK for more than 50 years, we couldn't agree more.

It is clear that the housing crisis and its impact on communities is now so acute that we need to make significant changes to our planning system and the delivery of infrastructure that makes a place work.

Housing needs to be seen as a fundamental requirement for our country that is prioritised alongside energy, transport and water. That doesn't mean that all housing decisions should be taken out of local hands, but thresholds applied as they are for energy projects.

Of course it is right that local people have the opportunity to shape the places in which they live, but we need a different approach for housing that gives more weight to the long-term requirements of a local area and a voice for its potential future residents.

For Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects - including energy, transport, waste and water projects above certain size thresholds, such as airports and nuclear power stations - the application is made at a national level to the Infrastructure Planning Committee (IPC), instead of to the local planning authority.

Classing housing as infrastructure in the planning process may sound ambitious but without significant changes such as this, we won't come close to overcoming the housing problems we face. No one argues for one type of development to be the only solution to meet our housing needs as a nation, we need all types of schemes from small infill developments to larger strategic sites and all sizes and types of schemes in between.

Planned villages and towns do though provide an ideal opportunity to deliver infrastructure to showcase new communities.

This "shop window" for well planned, well-resourced places provides the opportunity to demonstrate that new housing equals good quality places not to be feared, but welcomed.

This blog was originally published in Inside Housing on 16 January 2017.

16 January 2017